Gearing Up for New GI Bill

TAMPA, Fla. (May 12, 2009) -- With new generation of soldiers-turned-scholars ready to set foot on Florida campuses in the fall, Gov. Charlie Crist, the state’s universities and Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new statewide campaign Monday to assist veterans seeking to use benefits under the new GI Bill.

Boots to Books is an outreach effort to help Florida’s veterans attend college and ensure critical information on their educational benefits are easily available to them. Veterans can access the information at

The University of South Florida last year began preparing for the new GI Bill, which nationwide will provide some $62 million in tuition assistance when it takes effect Aug. 1. More information on USF’s veterans’ services can be found at

USF is set to become the first campus in the nation to strike an accord with the Department of Veterans Affairs to have specialized academic guidance services for veterans taking advantages of the Post-9/11 Veterans Education Bill. The university also is moving toward signing an agreement that would allow veterans who are not Florida residents but who want to attend USF to waive out-of-state tuition costs not covered by the standard GI Bill benefits, with USF and the VA splitting the additional costs.

 We want the Veterans, and their dependents, who come to USF to find complete success, academically and otherwise, so that they graduate with education and degrees that lead them to professional and personal success,” said W. Robert Sullins, USF’s dean of undergraduate studies who is among a group of campus leaders spearheading preparations for the new GI Bill.

Like its predecessor, the new GI Bill holds the promise of opening new doors and career fields for veterans who might have joined the military right of high school or who deferred their dreams of a college education to serve their country. Those who served at least three years or who were disabled during their service can access the full benefits; those with less service get commensurate portion of the benefits.

The new bill not only covers tuition and fees (up to the highest undergraduate rate in the state, which in this state is at the University of Florida) but provides a monthly housing stipend and up to $1,000 a year for books and supplies. The new bill also gives those in the reserves and National Guard who have been activated for more than 90 days since 9/11 access to the benefits. In some cases, service men and women will be able to transfer their benefits to their spouses or children.

Typically, there are about 800 to 1,000 veterans or their dependents on campus using preexisting military benefits to cover tuition and fees. The new GI Bill increases benefits substantially, but university administrators say what impossible to tell is how many veterans – particularly those who graduated from high school and went directly into the military may now opt to begin at a community college before transferring to a university.

Sullins said USF is already working with community colleges to make those future academic transitions smoothly. Already in place, a veteran’s student organization and the campus counseling center has hosted workshops to ease the transition.

Florida’s website will offer up-to-date information on how to apply for educational benefits, information on the Florida’s public and private universities and colleges and links to veterans groups’ websites. More than 17,000 veterans are enrolled in Florida’s higher education system.

“Florida has a long-time reputation as a military friendly state, and I am committed to keeping Florida as veteran friendly as possible,” Crist said. “To that end, the Florida Boots to Books initiative welcomes returning veterans to Florida’s institutions of higher learning and helps them meet their educational goals as they grow their careers and care for their families.”

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community-engaged, four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The university offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The university has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.